Food Guide Slammed; Senate Seeks Lobbyist-Free Revision

Health Canada should strike an all-scientific panel to revise its national Food Guide free of industry influence, says a Senate report. It follows criticism the current Guide reflects lobbying by food processors and agri-business groups.

“We know now it is not the basis of a good healthy diet,” said Senator Dr. Kelvin Ogilvie (Conservative-N.S.), chair of the Senate social affairs committee; “One of the things we want to do is put an emphasis on the whole meal, as opposed to individual nutrients.”

The committee in a report Obesity In Canada criticized the Guide for promoting fruit juice as a healthy substitute for raw fruit. Senators also heard testimony that recommended dairy consumption of 3 cups a day for adults is excessive; a half-litre of 1% white milk contains 216 calories.

“Fruit juice, for instance, is presented as a healthy item when it is little more than a soft drink without the bubbles,” Obesity said; “It contains all the sugar from several pieces of fruit, none of the fibre, and the vitamin content may be compromised due to the production methods used.”

“The Nutrition Facts Table of orange juice would indicate that it is high in vitamin C, but was described by one witness as not much better nutritionally than soft drinks, given the high sugar content,” the report said. “An orange, on the other hand, consumed as a whole fruit, contains more than the daily recommended amount of vitamin C but comes with the intrinsic fibre of the fruit, which lowers the glycemic load.”

Too Much Milk?

“There is no way that fruit juice should be counted as a fruit and vegetable,” Dr. David Hammond, associate professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Public Health, said in an earlier interview. “Eat fruit; you get less added sugar.”

The Senate committee urged that regulators appoint a panel of physicians, nutritionists and researchers to revise the Guide with recommendations based on actual meals, not nutrients, and specifically exclude input from food processors and agriculture lobbyists.

“We don’t want this process to be biased,” said Prof. Jean-Philippe Chaput, an obesity researcher with the University of Ottawa. “If the food industry is part of this, it doesn’t work — because of course they want people to eat more. It needs to be unbiased.”

The Senate committee over the course of its two-year investigation heard complaints of lobbyists’ influence on the Food Guide. “There is no evidence that suggests that every Canadian in the country should be drinking two or three glasses of milk a day,” Dr. Anna Issakoff-Meller of the Guelph, Ont. Family Health Team earlier testified at Senate committee hearings.

“There has never been any study in the history of time that says that that will confer specific health benefits,” Issakoff-Meller said. “We don’t know why that recommendation was made, but certainly there was the nutrition manager for the British Columbia Dairy Foundation who was sitting on the 12-member advisory panel of the Food Guide at the time of this current Guide’s creation. Maybe she got a raise afterwards; I don’t know.”

The Guide was last revised in 1982, 1992 and 2007. It details recommended daily consumption of grains; fruit and vegetables; dairy products and meat and fish. “All witnesses agreed that Canadians need to eat more whole foods – namely vegetables, fruits, nuts and meat – and they need to stay away from highly processed foods,” said Obesity, which followed a two-year investigation by the Senate panel; “Several witnesses agreed that Canada’s Food Guide has been at best ineffective, and at worst enabling, with respect to the rising levels of unhealthy weights and diet-related chronic diseases in Canada.”

Waterloo’s School of Health in 2015 research found only 53 percent of Canadians surveyed could identify the basic food groups listed in the Guide. “Canada’s dated food guide is no longer effective in providing nutritional guidance to Canadians,” Senators wrote.

By Kaven Baker-Voakes

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